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Should broadcasters build their own digital archives?

As part of research into the future development of broadcast archives, Broadcast Engineering spoke to Colin Lippitt, managing director of Infinity Group. A consultant for some time, he is known for his strong views on the business methodology of broadcasters.

Lippitt has much experience of broadcast operations, and an alternative take on archive management. He explained how broadcasters are looking at “how to handle archive material, but it is all pushed by the transmission side of operations rather than looking into the future. And what of legacy formats?”

There are many production companies and broadcasters that have a very large library of physical content assets, both film and videotape. When media decays, however, broadcasters are faced with the choice of losing the asset or migrating it to a new format, but that requires making the space for it.

Lippitt believes that the idea of broadcasters looking to their own digital archive is “crazy.” He says that they should focus on the business not the technology — the “what” and “why,” not the “how.”

“Let’s find a global solution; broadcasters are all trying to build it themselves and not farm it out,” he says. There is a mentality of “let’s control everything ourselves.” Lippitt is a strong believer in outsourcing the technology of the archive to global data centers to realize the cost reduction that the enterprise scale delivers.

The media and entertainment sector has often run a separate path from other industries and has been slow to embrace much of modern IT thinking. In the days of physical media, this was understandable, but with content acquired, produced and distributed as files, does this reluctance to join the fray still stand?

This leads to terms like virtualization and cloud computing. Much loved by technology marketers, what are they, and what can they deliver for broadcasters?

Virtualization is not new, but is taken to mean the abstraction of the process from its operating environment. That usually means running applications in a remote data center. Any broadcaster running a SAN is running virtualized storage, but in current thinking, a virtualization includes a service layer above the storage. For a digital archive this means that the complexity of running the storage — migrating tape, swapping defective disks — falls to the data center. The service can include disaster recovery, backup and all the other services needed for an asset store.

Lippitt’s case is that data center operators know a lot more about this than broadcasters, and that they should be the folks to run an archive, not the broadcasters. “I believe the way [for broadcasters] to go is the cloud and virtual data centers. Let’s put it one place,” he says.

Lippitt believes this can be a lower-energy approach. “Build in cool climates, and just use ambient air to cool disks with open chassis formats,” he says. This can reduce power to 30 percent of a fully conditioned city location. If the centers are sited on northerly nodes of global fiber networks, broadcasters can achieve good connectivity into the centers.

These views may be controversial to some content owners, anxious to guard their content at all stages of the broadcast processes.

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